Back to Basics: Pronouns
Pronouns are words that take the place of more specific nouns. Instead of naming a specific person, place, or thing, a pronoun may be used such as he, she, they, or it. They may be used to make a piece of writing more generic; however, the first rule of good writing should be remembered: clarity over beauty.
Use pronouns only when the noun they are meant to replace is clear. While they can be used to prevent redundancy, replacing most or all of the nouns with pronouns can muddy your meaning. Make sure to leave enough specific nouns in your writing to keep the meaning clear.
Make sure you are using the right pronoun type.
The pronoun used in a given situation depends on where and how it is being used. There are four types: possessive, subject, object, and reflexive.
Possessive pronouns mean the same thing as the possessive form of the nouns they replace. They show something belongs to them. Examples of possessive pronouns are his, hers, theirs, yours, and ours.
Unlike possessive nouns, possessive pronouns do not require an apostrophe. Whenever you see it’s or who’s, they are contractions of it is, it has, or who is. If you aren’t writing a contraction, forget the apostrophe!
A special note about the word oneself: the only correct form is oneself. Don’t write it as “one’s self.” It’s always one word with one “s” and no apostrophe.
When should you use a subject pronoun?
There are two times you would need a subject pronoun. The first is easy to remember; it’s the subject of the sentence. The second instance is if the pronoun is renaming the subject.
You can remember which pronouns are subject pronouns by trying to use them in the beginning of a sentence.
Example: _________ went to a party. (?)
He, she, they, we, everyone, who, it, and I would all sound right if you put them in the blank space at the example’s beginning because they are all subject pronouns. Try the same thing with him, her, them, us, and me. Those just sound wrong, don’t they? That’s because the second list are object pronouns, not subject pronouns. Therefore, they should never be used in the place of a sentence’s subject.
So what do you mean about renaming the subject?
Have you ever heard a conversation like this one in a movie or television show just after someone picks up the phone?
Timothy: “May I speak to Mary, please?”
Mary: “This is she.”
“She” is a subject pronoun, so it sounds a bit weird to hear it placed anywhere following a verb. However, it refers to Mary, the implied subject of the sentence. This second way of using subject pronouns always follow to be verbs such as is, am, are, was, were, will be, have been, etc.
It was he who spilled the paint.
The team was responsible. Weren’t they?
It was her who did the planning.
While most people will allow the use of object pronouns in these instances to slip in informal situations, they are still best avoided even though they might sound more natural. Make sure to use the proper subject pronoun when writing or speaking formally in such instances.
When should you use an object pronoun?
Object pronouns are used when they are the object of a sentence, be it the direct object, indirect object, or an object of a preposition. To put it simply, if the pronoun is replacing a noun that’s having something done to it instead of doing something, use the object form.
Adam waved to him.
Alex gave them the pie.
(Object of a Preposition)
Were you singing to her?
Subject verb agreement can get tricky with pronouns.
Some look to the subject to determine whether they are singular or plural: who, that, and which. When you see these three in a sentence, pay close attention to the sentence’s subject, and use it to determine which verb to use after them. It’s also important to note, the subject of a sentence isn’t always clear. If there are two nouns or pronouns that look like they could be the subject, and you just cannot determine which one is it, try rearranging the sentence to make it clearer.
Some pronouns are very clearly singular: I, he, she, anyone, no one, everyone, everybody, etc. However, when each, either, and neither are followed by of, no matter what follows the word “of,” the singular verb should be used because each, either, and neither are all singular!
Each of the children reads a story aloud.
Either of them does a good job.
Neither of them is here.
Yet, this can change when each, either, or neither isn’t used as the subject of the sentence.
The children each read their story.
The teammates each practice daily.
What are reflexive pronouns?
You know all those words that end in –self? Those are reflexive pronouns. When a sentence has a subject and object that are the same, reflexive pronouns are used in place of an object pronoun. This helps reduce redundancy and confusion.
Without the inclusion of a reflexive pronoun, we might end up with sentences like these.
Through study and hard work, Mary helped Mary pass chemistry.
I poured a bowl of cereal for me.
See how odd that is? Let’s try rewriting them with reflexive pronouns.
Through study and hard work, Mary helped herself pass chemistry.
I poured a bowl of cereal for myself.
Now, that’s not to say reflexive pronouns always appear toward the end of a sentence or always follow a stated subject. Remember, implied “you” counts as a subject.
Unsure of herself, Georgia fidgeted with the hem of her shirt.
Pace yourself. (Can be read as shorthand for, “You need to pace yourself.”)
It should be noted the reflexive pronoun “myself” has its own rule. It should only be used when the words “I” or “me” is used earlier in the sentence.
You wouldn’t say, “Give it to myself.” You’d say, “Give it to me.”
I apologize for the tardiness of this lesson. I won't make excuses.
Thank you for reading, and as always, if you have questions or anything to add, please leave them in the comments below. I attempt to respond within twenty-four hours to all questions and comments.
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A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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